Finland hosts and wins World Floorball Championships
Disparity in standards will have to be addressed before long
Finland's national floorball team went into the World Championships in Helsinki as favourites to hold on to the title they won two years ago in the Czech Republic, and they delivered with a comprehensive 6-2 victory over Sweden in the final on Saturday.
The Finns had on occasions showed some nervousness in the opening minutes of their earlier matches, but on Saturday, in front of a full house of more than 13,000 in the Hartwall Arena, they were 2-0 up within six minutes through goals from Mika Kohonen and Mikael Järvi.
The Swedes pulled a goal back in the second period through Kim Nilsson, but Kohonen added a second individual goal to make it 3-1.
In the third period, the Finns wrapped things up with two quick goals from Rickie Hyvärinen and Mikko Kohonen, and Rasmus Sundstedt's powerplay effort to reduce the margin to 5-2 was swiftly cancelled out by a strike from Lassi Vänttinen with just over a minute left on the clock.
The Finns were unbeaten throughout the tournament, and well deserved their ranking as the No.1 squad in the sport.
The likelihood is that there will be substantial changes in the line-up by the time the World Championships are held next in Switzerland in 2012, as a good many of the team members, including goalie Henri Toivoniemi, captain Mikael Järvi, and Mika Kohonen, this year voted once again as the world's best floorball player, will all be calling it a day.
Also bowing out at the top will be the head coach Petteri Nykky, who led the Finns to their first win two years ago.
The tournament was well attended, but it has to be said that it glaringly showed up the narrowness of the top flight in this still young sport: the first men's world championships were held only in 1996 and the first women's tournament was played a year later in 1997.
Sweden have won the men's event six times, and Finland twice.
The Finns have four silver medals and two bronze medals. The Swiss (0-1-4), Czechs (0-1-1), and Norwegians (0-0-1) have picked up the minor medals since 1996.
This time a total of 32 registered national teams sought the prize.
Eight gained automatic entry to the finals in Helsinki, and another eight made it through the regional qualifying procedure, but the opening round-robin groups in the Finnish capital indicated all too clearly that there remains a vast gulf between the top three or four teams - all European - and the rest.
Sweden went on the rampage in their three group games, scoring a quite terrifying 81 goals and conceding only three.
They demolished Australia 39-1, and crushed Germany and Estonia by almost equally surreal 21-1 margins.
Even so, Estonia emerged second in the group, and caned the Australians by an equally emphatic score of 18 to 4.
By comparison with this unbridled onslaught, the Finns were positively restrained: they scored only 36 goals and conceded five in their three group matches against Russia (14-2), Canada (14-2), and Denmark (8-1).
The disparities continued into the knock-out rounds, with the Finns crushing Latvia 12-2 in the quarters and the Czech Republic 6-1 in the semis.
Sweden put ten goals past Russia in their quarter-final meeting, but found Switzerland a tougher nut to crack in the semi-final, which ended 3-2.
The Czechs eventually took the bronze medals with a 9-3 win over the Swiss.
Some idea of the huge difference in skills that goes through all levels of the sport can be gained from the match between Denmark (who finished pointless and bottom of Finland's group and eventually ranked 13th in the tournament), and Singapore, the bottom team in Switzerland's group - with a horrendous goal difference of 5-74, including a 37-0 defeat to the Swiss.
The Danes won the encounter overwhelmingly, 24-1.
Both these teams had in their turn qualified for Helsinki by massive margins in their respective European and Asian/Oceanian Qualification Rounds. Singapore had for instance beaten Malaysia 25-1!
It is only natural that the International Floorball Federation would like to see the sport spread far and wide, and not just in Europe, and they have to make a start somewhere.
Nevertheless, sixteen teams (up from ten in 2008) was perhaps a bit overly ambitious, and it has to be hoped for the future of the sport that this imbalance is only a passing phase and that things will start to even themselves up in years to come.
As a public spectacle it is hardly edifying to see so many games ending in the ritual slaughter of one side by another, and some might argue that the World Championships, spread over eight days, only began to be a proper competitive event at the semi-finals stage.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Finns win Floorball World Championships at the seventh attempt (15.12.2008)
2010 Men´s Floorball World Championships (Wikipedia)
International Floorball Federation Official Site